It was a far flight for fancy to take, from my paepae in the jungle at the foot of Temetiu, but looking at the beauty and grace of Malicious Gossip as she sat on my mats in her crimson pareu, I liked to think that it was so.
“We are cousins,” I said to her, handing her a freshly-opened cocoanut which Exploding Eggs brought.
“You are a great chief, but we love you as a blood-brother,” she answered gravely, and lifted the shell bowl to her lips.
Filling the popoi pits in the season of the breadfruit; legend of the mei; the secret festival in a hidden valley.
On the road to the beach one morning I came upon Great Fern, my landlord. Garbed in brilliant yellow pareu, he bore on his shoulders an immense kooka, or basket of cocoanut fiber, filled with quite two hundred pounds of breadfruit. The superb muscles stood out on his perfect body, wet with perspiration as though he had come from the river.
“Kaoha, Great Fern!” I said. “Where do you go with the mei?”
“It is Meinui, the season of the breadfruit,” he replied. “We fill the popoi pit beside my house.”
There is a word on the Marquesan tongue vividly picturing the terrors of famine. It means, “one who is burned to drive away a drought.” In these islands cut off from the world the very life of the people depends on the grace of rain. Though the skies had been kind for several years, not a day passing without a gentle downpour, there had been in the past dry periods when even the hardiest vegetation all but perished. So it came about that the Marquesan was obliged to improvise a method of keeping breadfruit for a long time, and becoming habituated to sour food he learned to like it, as many Americans relish ill-smelling cheese and fish and meat, or drink with pleasure absinthe, bitters, and other gagging beverages.
In this season of plenteous breadfruit, therefore, Great Fern had opened his popoi pit, and was replenishing its supply. A half-dozen who ate from it were helping him. Only the enthusiasm of the traveler for a strange sight held me within radius of its odor.
It was sunk in the earth, four feet deep and perhaps five in diameter, and was only a dozen years old, which made it a comparatively small and recently acquired household possession in the eyes of my savage friends. Mouth of God and Malicious Gossip owned a popoi pit dug by his grandfather, who was eaten by the men of Taaoa, and near the house of Vaikehu, a descendant of the only Marquesan queen, there was a uuama tehito, or ancient hole, the origin of which was lost in the dimness of centuries. It was fifty feet long and said to be even deeper, though no living Marquesan had ever tasted its stores, or never would unless dire famine compelled. It was tapu to the memory of the dead.